Queenstown faces economic crunch

Queenstown: urban population 13,500.

When one thinks of Queenstown they think of a year round tourist play ground that thrives in both summer and winter. A play ground with a stunning scenic with lakes, mountains, fast rivers and a rich history of gold mining and more recently tourism. People fly in direct from all over New Zealand and from Sydney in Australia to take advantage of the Lakes District’s many offerings.

But is the same stunning landscape that makes it a magnet in the first place a potential choke? Sadly the answer is yes.

The geography of Queenstown, whilst ensuring its popularity as a scenic spot/holiday town, is also a potential choker on growth. Constrained by Lake Wakatipu on one side and high mountains on the other, Queenstown can only spread along the lake shore and into adjacent valleys.

Vineyards, orchards, gold mining relics are all nearby. There are multiple festivals such as the WInter Festival as well as the bi-annual Warbirds over Wanaka airshow and many others. But if Queenstown is subject to rampant growth for the sake of growth, a whole set of factors are likely to combine to make it no such a great place after all. Let us have a look at them.

Rents are high. For years it has been a place that has been barely affordable for locals, who no longer recognize it as the sleepy place it was 30 years ago. The demand for services, with new buildings springing up all the time, combined with its year round attraction means a continually booming tourist town, but with an under current of socio-economic problems that are not pleasant.

There is exploitation. Non New Zealanders have moved into the town, which is fine – the problem is not whether people come or not, but whether they are willing to comply with New Zealand labour laws. People moving in to make a quick dollar are not necessarily going care about the fact that there is a minimum wage applicable to all workers in New Zealand; 40 hour working week and holiday provisions for those who have to work statutory holidays.

There is a land issue. Queenstown cannot continue spreading endlessly outwards, or it will risk undercutting the businesses on the towns periphery that help to make it and the surrounding area so special. Going vertically up also has its problems. The taller the building, the correspondingly deeper the foundations will need to be and on land that is already at a premium, that might just be some sort of impenetrable ceiling. The geology of the land, relatively close to large faults means shaking intensities are likely to be fairly high in a large earthquake, which will make lateral spreading, landsliding and liquefaction likely.

And then there is the transport issue. The exponential growth of Queenstown and the accelerating growth of Wanaka has put major pressure on the roading network throughout the area. The airport has a plan to increase tourist numbers from 2 million currently arriving per annum to possibly 5 million. These are the only two transport modes in and out of the town. No railways exist – where would you put one even if it was viable? – and catering for 30,000 vehicle movements on peak days – that is about 20 a minute, every minute, all amount to a distinctively unattractive problem.

By all means come to Queenstown. Stay a couple nights. Travel on the T.S.S. Earnslaw up to the end of the lake. Visit the nearby gold mining sites. But don’t be surprised if this place is close to hitting its limits.

Tourist season beginning

Against a backdrop of international uncertainty in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia and Iran at loggerheads – again – and incendiary rhetoric spouting from both sides of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the busy tourist season is showing signs of ramping up. For some the sabre rattling and threat of war will be off putting enough to make them look at safer options; for others it will be the long term trip of a life time.

For locals it might be the chance to catch up with relatives in other parts of the country, or attend one of the many festivals that occur in New Zealand over the course of summer. Numerous big musical acts are coming to visit New Zealand over the course of the summer, including Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.

For airports this will be a busy time. Congestion both inside and outside the terminals, especially in Auckland. It will be challenging work for the ground staff keeping up with aircraft movements and for rental car companies trying to ensure enough of the right vehicle groups are available, and making sure that coming up to Christmas all of the servicing needs of vehicles are met so that the maintenance sections of their service yards are empty over the Christmas and New Year break.

Cathay Pacific shortly start flying A-350 aircraft into Christchurch, starting on 1 December 2017. This twin engine aircraft is known for its significantly quieter cabin. Emirates will continue flying their A-380 into Christchurch. Singapore airlines, which flies 777-200ER aircraft into Christchurch, are seeking to upgrade to A-350 jets.

Whilst exciting for the tourism industry, this all does come at a cost that is still not being adequately addressed. Every tourist that comes here will need transport, a roof over their head.

Small District Councils may find themselves struggling to pay for tourism infrastructure, such as public toilets, rest areas, car parking and camper van friendly sites as well as rubbish bins. They might also find a need to create designated freedom camping areas, so that those not wanting to use a camping ground have somewhere to go. Debates about how to pay for the infrastructure have resulted in suggestions of a one of levy or other payment at the border, which goes into a fund for such amenities. Others suggestions have included a user pays fee to access national parks to provide relief for local ratepayers.

The change of Government is yet to show anything in terms of tourism related policy. However some sort of policy announcements would be expected in the new year at the latest.

National and Labour economic with truth about fuel pipeline

But one thing has become clear in the course of this story. National and Labour are both being economic with the truth how a fuel line came to be leaking 80m³ of fuel. Perhaps it is fitting for the final week of a chaotic election campaign that has seen wild swings in the polls from Labour to National and back to Labour.

Trying to make sense of who is involved is another matter. National and Labour are blaming each other, though if one looks at who knows what, it has been known since 2005. This means that for the last three years of the previous Labour Government and the entire duration of this Government it has been known that there is a problem with the pipe. And a more recent report from 2012 suggesting that there should be a back up plan does not help the situation either.

Airlines flying in and out of Auckland International Airport are being constricted by the lack of fuel. And thousands of passengers have suffered delays. No doubt this has included politicians trying to get to meetings and last week campaign events.

To show how serious the issue is being taken, a Royal New Zealand Navy tanker has been drafted in to deliver fuel.

What I find perhaps surprising is the lack of alarm being shown by the Department of Conservation in having so much fuel leak into the environment.

For a Government that has spent billions on roads and talks about infrastructure being critical to New Zealand’s development, and also given its support for oil, the lack of emphasis on maintaining this infrastructure – or getting the parties responsible for it to do so – is perhaps the most surprising aspect.

But as we progress through the final days of the N.Z. election campaign, I doubt this is going to change voters minds. The ones that have already made their minds up will just be hardened further.

The only thing that can really be debated is how this will impact on New Zealand’s reputation. Some say we just need to stay came and let the authorities get on top of it. Others will be less impressed – especially if they find their flight taking a several thousand kilometre detour because there is not enough fuel to get out of Auckland. And the saying goes one disgruntled customer will tell for people – if they then tell four more each, it is easy to see how this could spiral out of control if not dealt with quickly.

Milford Sound: Getting there is half the experience

This article is inspired by a sad story a few days ago of a crash that claimed two lives on the Milford road to perhaps the most stunning part of New Zealand’s conservation estate. It is inspired by the fact that

Thousands of people do it every year. My family have done it twice in 1991 and 1999. Both times we made it a two day exercise, driving from my Uncle’s farm in Waikaka to Te Anau Downs on the first day and then to Milford and back to the farm on the second day. Without doubt when it comes to scenery, the Milford road is the most fantastic drive in New Zealand.

But it is long. From Te Anau to Milford Sound is 204 kilometres one way. From Queenstown to Milford Sound, it is nearly 420 kilometres. The road is windy, has steep drop offs and is treacherous in rain or. In winter it can be closed for days by the avalanche risk and black ice on shaded corners have sent many a car into a spin.

Any one who has taken the time to enjoy the scenery along the way – to look at the fantastic waterfalls, the stunning alpine landscape, and verdant rainforest – will agree that the scenery along the way is breath taking.

Oh sure you might be trying to cram as much into your compressed holiday itinerary as you can. Sure you might not be coming back for awhile, but why the inane rush to drive Queenstown to Milford Sound AND back in a single day? Aside from being an exceptionally long drive totalling nearly 840 kilometres (525 miles), you completely miss the said stunning scenery. And you probably give stuff all time in Milford Sound, the place you spent so much effort getting to in the first place.

But, I have a solution and it is not a daft one by any means. Build a motel or other accommodation place just outside the National Park boundary. It is still about 100 kilometres from there to Milford Sound, but it does two things

  • Enable more time in Milford Sound, which was the whole reason for making the trip in the first place
  • give the visitor more time to enjoy said stunning scenery and marvel at what a fantastic place Fiordland National Park is

An assorted mix of accommodation would be necessary to cater for the various groups. Tour buses could use it as a pick up/drop off point and it might be possible to run smaller groups from the lodgings up to Milford Sound on minibuses. Giving tourists a place that they can be picked up from nearer to Milford Sound means they could leave their cars at the accommodation and not have to risk a road whose conditions they might not comprehend.

And if saves any lives by giving fatigued drivers somewhere to park up, all the better.


The case for New Zealanders being multi-lingual

Ichi, nii, san, shi… (One, two, three, four)

Said my Japanese teacher on the first day of learning the language at Burnside High, before asking us if any one knew what he was saying. Whilst fascinating, I found it far too hard and in retrospect should have taken German or Maori. With its three different sets of symbols (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji), which someone told me total over 1900 characters between them, I should have realized it was beyond me. However, at the time I was bent on becoming a volcanologist, and as Japan has many volcanoes it seemed to make sense to me that I should learn their language. About the only thing I can do now in Japanese, aside from counting from 1-99 is spell my name.

Despite failing in Japanese, it set motion an interest that continues to this day. I have to confess that one of my biggest regrets, which I do intend eventually addressing is not being able to speak fluently in a second language. I know people from Sweden who can speak English, Swedish, German and French. One friend in particular is able to write English better than many New Zealanders I know – her grammar is flawless.

At my work in a rental car service yard at this time we have German temps working for us. Their English is good enough that we can joke with them and have fairly fluent conversations, and they have told myself and my colleagues that it is useful practice for them in perfecting technical aspects of the English language.

In New Zealand, a country reliant on tourists who speak all manner of languages, it is essential that we learn a few basic phrases from the languages of the nationalities that visit here most frequently where English is not prevalent. German and French national’s are the most likely to work in our Wash Bay in terms of those I am likely to meet on work visa’s here in New Zealand. However Chinese tourists are the most likely people one will meet on New Zealand roads in February and early March, due to the Chinese New Year. Other than “Ni Hao”, I do not know a single word of Chinese.

These experiences, and others including doing papers in Geography that looked at aspects of environmental management from an indigenous (Maori)perspective, gave me a new appreciation for an age old debating topic. For there was a time when learning Te Reo was frowned upon. This is why making Te Reo compulsory for all New Zealanders, starting in primary school should be compulsory. And aside from the fact that it is an official language of New Zealand, the early learning of it, will be a useful way for a student to determine whether they like the idea of becoming multi-lingual later on in life.

Go, roku, nana, hachi…. (Five, six, seven, eight)